You ever hear of Dark Shadows? Of course you have--I mean, Tim Burton's doing a big screen version with Johnny Depp, and everything. But even past that, the hook of it, an ongoing horror soap opera with vampires and werewolves and all sorts of monsters, is gripping stuff. Conceptually, at least. I've never seen a single episode of the show, and to be honest with you, I'm not all that interested in seeking it out; I've heard mixed things, and I dig the idea that I have in my head too much to risk being disappointed. I want to see a show where good guys fight freaky things and there's all kinds of tortured mythology that doesn't completely hold together but generally works well. And just as importantly, I want a sense of story so strong that tuning in each week isn't just a pleasure, it's damn near a necessity. I want something with teeth.
Thankfully, there's Supernatural. It's pretty much the show I imagined whenever I heard about Dark Shadows, only with a cooler car.
When we last left the Winchester boys, everything was the worst it could possibly be. Sam had killed the demon Lilith, inadvertently opening the last seal barring Lucifer's return; Ruby had revealed herself as a betrayer, working to bring about the apocalypse; and Dean arrived just in time to be too late to stop anything. Ruby got herself a demon-killing knife in the gut, but that was mostly just for show--because Satan was coming. There's not a whole lot you can do to make that not suck.
"Sympathy For The Devil" picks up right where last season ended. (How much do I get a kick out of this show? It can call an episode with the Devil in it "Sympathy for the Devil" and I don't roll my eyes. Hell, there's even a reason for the title, which we'll get to in a bit.) Sam and Dean are stuck in the church while the floor shakes and light explodes from everywhere. They run to the door, which slams shut in their faces, and it looks like the end until-
We cut to a plane, mid-flight. Sam and Dean are sitting together, watching "Devil's Feud Cake," a cartoon with Yosemite Sam in Hell. Neither of them has any idea how they ended up on the plane. Then there's a burst of light from the ground below. Lucifer's arrived on Earth, and something pulled the brothers out of the way just in time.
There's a lot to like in "Sympathy," although a lot of it feels familiar as well. We check in with the usual crew, we have a couple plot twists, and there's the usual bickering between our heroes. Sam keeps trying to apologize for jumpstarting Armageddon, Dean keeps avoiding the issue, and when Dean finally admits at the end of the episode that he's not cool with things, that he doesn't think he can ever trust Sam again--well, it's not exactly a surprise is it? Seems like every season of the show, we've had some big conversation when Dean finally gets too upset to hold back just how upset he is, and Sam looks mopey about it, and Dean glowers, and nothing really changes. Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki are comfortable enough with their characters that the bickering isn't a chore, but here's hoping things can lighten up a little this season. Sure, it's the end of the world, but we went through our watching-your-brother-lose-his-soul-to-drugs arc last time around. We don't need to do it again.
Thankfully, "Sympathy" also had some laughs. Dean mouthing off to an increasingly tetchy Zachariah the Archangel was fun; and the Wincest gag from last year gets another go-around when Carver Edlund, the prophet of the Lord who novelizes Sam and Dean's adventures, has to get in touch with the boys through an obsessive fan-girl surrogate. One of Supernatural's big strengths is that it can be self-aware without going completely camp, and watching "Samlicker81" rub Sam's chest reverently ("Becky, can you quit touching me?" "No.") was hilarious. (That said, this is probably a road we don't need to go down any further. The fan-nods are cute, but any more of them, and it'll stop being funny fast.)
As for the mythology, we've got a battle with the Devil, and Sam and Dean won't be able to count on the demons or the angels to help them; the demons for obvious reasons, and the angels because they don't care how many people die, so long as they win. There's a brief hope when Carver finds something about Archangel Micheal's sword, which he used to cast Lucifer down to Hell. The boys track it down to one of their dad's storage units. (There's a brief run-in with some demons before they go; Bobby gets possessed and has to stab himself to get free, and Meg, who we haven't seen since the first season, I think, is back. Kind of getting sick of all these female demons, by the way.) Turns out that the sword is actually the human vessel Michael needs to inhabit to battle Satan, and the vessel is Dean. The only way Michael can get into him is if Dean lets him, though, and Dean isn't having it, not even when Zachariah gives him stomach cancer and removes Sam's lungs.
Thankfully, Castiel (Misha Collins, now a series regular, which is swell), one of the few angels out on the Winchesters' side, shows up to save the day, despite everybody believing he was dead. There's some talk about who might have saved Cass and rescued Sam and Dean earlier, and while nobody comes out and says it, there's a chance God might be putting a hand in. Which will make for an interesting dynamic down the road--maybe there'll be another revolution in Heaven before this is done? I wish we could see some non-purely evil demons at some point. Given that the angels have turned out to be a lot less than the pure good you'd expect, it would be nice if the supposed bad guys were given the same complexity.
But maybe they will be. One of the conditions of Satan's return to Earth is that he has to find his own vessel before he can start wrecking the place. He hones in on the right man almost immediately: a guy named Nick whose wife and child were murdered. (Nick is played by Mark Pellegrino, who should be familiar to Lost fans for reasons I won't mention.) Nick isn't an evil, and what makes this episode really work, apart from the usual pleasures of the series, is that Lucifer has to go by the same rules as Michael does. Nick has to give him permission before he can take control. So Satan comes to Nick in a dream as his dead wife, and explains that humanity has it wrong. His only crime was in loving God too much. Nick asks if he can have his family back, and Satan admits he can't bring the dead to life. "But I can give you the next best thing," the dead wife offers. "God did this to you, Nick. And I can give you justice."
One of the best parts about last season was that it got complex enough that it wasn't easy anymore to tell white shirts from black. I'm sure Satan will turn out to be a monster, and that Sam and Dean will have to take him down, and it will be awesome. But when Nick says "Yes," I felt satisfied, and not just because I want to see Lucifer's next move. Like I said before, the title of the episode was actually a little smarter than I initially thought; because here is a devil it's not that hard to agree with.
- According to Meg, "These are the days of miracle and wonder." I would not have pegged her as a Paul Simon fan.
- Dean on being a vessel: "Yeah, life as an angel condom. That's real fun."
- Cass protects Sam and Dean by carving an "Enochian sigil." On their ribs.
- Another show Supernatural reminds me of: Angel. Use that to sell the unconvinced.